Sometimes, men are good at things. When men are good at things, it is only fair that we publicly reward them for that goodness no matter how basic. They deserve it.
Kat George at the Decider wrote a very long article extolling the truly unfathomable skills and awareness of two white guys who somehow managed to write believable female characters on television.
In ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ Deserves Applause for Refusing to Get Cheap Laughs From Gender Stereotypes, she argues that the show’s creators should be recognized and praised for their elementary gender awareness. Break out the bubbly.
On closer inspection, perhaps this development shouldn’t come as such a shock. After all, the minds behind Brooklyn Nine-Nine–Daniel J. Goor (Parks & Rec) and Michael Schur (Parks & Rec, The Office, The Comeback)–have created some of the most iconic female television sitcom characters of the past decade.
So, yes, it is possible for men to write women that women want to watch.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is indeed a very good show with a diverse cast that is devoid of stereotypes and tropes. At the same time, it is 2016. Goor and Schur ain’t exactly breaking the color barrier.
Most sensible people would argue that being able to write female characters who are multi-dimensional and realistic should be a basic requirement for all writers. What George offers as some sort of unique accomplishment, I would describe as these two men simply doing their goddamn jobs.
Women exist in the world. Half the human beings in the world are women. I imagine that Goor and Schur encounter women on a fairly regular basis—they might even personally know and love a few of them. When you make television about the world, some women might sneak up in there. It would then follow that a large part of being able to make good television would require the ability to write good women. (I know, I know. Somehow, the ground remains unbroken.)
Of course, both men and women have failed at creating great roles for women for the entire history of television. However, just because other writers fall short doesn’t mean that’s the standard we have to accept.
Meanwhile, in the past, and even in iconic sitcoms like Friends and Seinfeld, gender is used to polarize and define characters, often in an insensitive manner. For instance, in Seinfeld’s “The Shoes” (Season 4, Episode 15) the premise that women are objects to be ogled is set up, as George attempts to justify his lasciviously perving on an underage girl. The plot of an entire episode is based on the Bergerian “Men act and women appear” philosophy, and even Elaine, the resident “empowered” female, bends to those patriarchal notions of sexuality and helps to further them.
The bar for any reasonable person should be higher than: “yeah but those other guys were worse.”
In praising Goor and Schur as some sort of exception, you also undermine the work of writers like Jennie Snyder Urman, Shonda Rhimes and Jenji Kohan who consistently write good, smart funny things for both men and women because that’s the job.
These two men are completely competent at the work they do which requires writing funny, authentic things to come out the mouths of ladies. Have we not moved on from handing out cookies for this? Are we really going to continue, in 2016, to reward expected proficiencies when exhibited by those who are white, male and/or both?
If that’s the case, then today, make sure to congratulate all the men in your life out there putting in the effort that counts: Remembering to breathe air in and out of their lungs, not murdering anyone (today!) and remembering to put one foot in front of the other.
It must be nice to be applauded for doing exactly what you’re supposed to do.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Image via John Phillips/Getty.